We’re With The Band
The term supergroup conjures up all sorts of images, from the dazzling to the dreary. The benefit of such high-profile connotations is obviously a high profile, but great expectations can also be a curse if the players are not up to par. In the case of the hard-rocking The Damned Things, whose members hail from three very different bands, you get a happy, heavy medium somewhere between the thrashing antics of Anthrax (guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano), the fierce metalcore of Every Time I Die (vocalist Keith Buckley and touring bassist Josh Newton), and the hook-laden pop-rock of Fall Out Boy (guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley). But the thought of these disparate musicians tearing up stages together has raised more than a few eyebrows, which seems to have become a blessing in disguise.
When INKED caught up with guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Andy Hurley, separately, during a previous tour’s stop in Seattle, they were eager to chat about the origins of their Thin Lizzy–influenced band (the name comes from Lizzy’s “Black Betty”: Black Betty had a child, bam-ba-lam/The damn thing gone wild, bam-ba-lam). As Ian tells it, a social dinner and subsequent friendship between Ian and Trohman blossomed into something more months later when Trohman played Ian some guitar ideas he had that were not right for Fall Out Boy. It only took another three or four years to assemble the right troops, then record and release an album together as The Damned Things.
But now here they are with an album (Ironiclast), getting radio airplay, headlining INKED’s summer music tour, and loving it: “I’m totally stoked for the Inked Magazine Music Tour,” proclaims Hurley. “I think it’s a great magazine, so it’s cool you’re behind us. I’m looking forward to playing rock shows for children who like rock music. It’s fun to play a different style to a different crowd than [the one] that shows up for Fall Out Boy concerts,” says Hurley. “There are definitely fans of each band [on its own], but there are also new fans that none of us would have otherwise, and it’s cool that it seems like it crosses over pretty well between all the fans They’re all awesome.”
“I just really love the music,” declares Ian. “That’s why I’m doing it. I really love these songs, and I think we really did something different. We certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel, but for what’s out there these days, I just think we made something that sounds fresh and original. We don’t sound like anything else on the radio, yet we’re playing extremely valid rock music that touches on many different influences that we all brought to the table. … The bottom line is we all come from the same place musically. We all have the same loves and hates when it comes to music in this band, and that’s really what unites us—even though there’s obviously a huge difference in age between some of us.”
Trohman is the youngest, at 26 years old, and Ian the oldest, at 47, but that’s hardly something worth contemplating while cranking Ironiclast. The album’s blend of old- and new-school rock influences goes down some unexpected paths, from the up-tempo anthem “We’ve Got a Situation Here” (complete with metalcore-flavored bridge) to the snarling rocker “Little Darling” to the closing number “Blues Having the Blues,” complete with soulful female backing vocals and subtle slide guitar work. There’s a definite sonic stamp placed on the album that shows they spent time honing their sound, but there are no weepy ballads or tepid anthems pandering to mainstream rock radio. What you hear is what you get.
As they spent time massaging their material, The Damned Things really had to work through the half-finished “Little Darling” and “Blues Having the Blues” in the studio. But ultimately, it resulted in two of the best songs on the album. “It just is that way sometimes,” muses Ian. “Some songs come together in three minutes, and some songs take until the last minute. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just if it’s something you dig or not. Of course I prefer when something practically writes itself and you’re done in 45 minutes and it’s amazing.” That’s not always the case with his Anthrax work. “There’s a song currently on this new Anthrax record that we’ve been working on for almost three years called ‘Down Goes the Sun,’ and it’s going through its third revision right now. Charlie [Benante] is going back in and re-recording the drums and starting from the ground up again because we just rearranged it and came up with some new parts, and we think we’ve finally got it. It’s this thing we’ve been working on and love it so much, so that’s why we’ve given it all this attention.”
With so many cooks in The Damned Things kitchen, you’re bound to find different views of the world. Ian, who’s having a child, works on comics and plays professional poker in his spare time, while Hurley, also the magnate of the indie hardcore record label and Satanic-sport T-shirt purveyor Fuck City, cultivates an anarcho-primitivist view of the world.
“I just feel that all the big problems that we have are due to the advent of civilization, especially industrial civilization,” Hurley says. “The way a lot of different humans lived for hundreds of thousands of years was in band societies that were essentially anarchist—not that they called themselves anarchists,” he explains. “It’s more green anarchism, it’s just more anti-civilization. … Obviously nuclear energy is one of the only viable energy alternatives to coal and fossil fuels, but with what happened with Fukushima, it’s just so toxic. To keep industrial civilization going you need massive amounts of energy to fuel the electrical grid, and to do that there’s no real way that’s not harmful to the planet or to life on the planet. That’s essentially why I am anti-civilization.”
Recently, a blogger questioned the vegan and straight-edge drummer about how he justifies his sociopolitical views, considering he’s also a wealthy guy who has been seen talking on an iPhone and has a nice house that’s been displayed on Cribs. “I live in America, in civilization, and I have friends who live in it, so I’m not just going to go off and live off the land. I grew up in this,” Hurley explains. “I don’t want to go [it] alone, and you can’t expect any of your friends to do something like that. That’s kind of a crazy idea to most people. I’m into comics and into movies and all these things—it’s definitely a contradictory thing with the job I have. But the point is that I understand that the way we’re living isn’t sustainable and isn’t great for the world.”
When it comes to tattoos, both Ian and Hurley are pretty well inked, although the drummer has covered more of his body. Ian says his ink falls into two categories: those he simply likes and those that have a deeper meaning or influence on his life. In the case of the former, his tattoo of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies and the word “Patience” written in kanji fit the bill, whereas his images of Gene Simmons as the Demon and head shots of Angus and Malcolm Young are apropos of the latter. His first ink, done on his right shoulder around 1990, is a sun and a Northwest Indian face inspired by ink that Henry Rollins had on his back.
“Some of my earlier ones were done by a guy named Gary Kosmala in Huntington Beach,” says Ian. “He was working with Leo Zulueta at Black Wave [in Los Angeles], and I had met Gary even before that shop opened because I was living in Huntington Beach. He did my right inner forearm, my left bicep, and my right arm with the dice and the flames. … A guy named Guf at Ace Tattoo in San Diego did my Gorey piece and my Thraxagram thing on my arm.” Kat Von D did his Angus and Malcolm pieces as well as the 666 on his finger. There’s also a Paul Booth piece on his leg that’s a work in progress. “Most of the [finished] work is on the top of my foot, and after having the outline done, I’m really in no rush to get it finished.”
Hurley’s first ink, a “Mom” tattoo on his chest, was a birthday present to her and a thank-you for raising him on her own (his father died when he was younger). He also has small tattoos on both sides of his body, one that says “family” and another that says “love.” He explains that the pieces meant a lot to him at the time, “probably because of the alienation of my dad dying, and my siblings leaving when I was close to a few of them.” Hurley has four half-sisters and five half-brothers (he is at least 10 years younger than the youngest of the group), but after his father’s death they moved on with their lives and did not stay in touch.
The family-inspired pieces were done by Mario Desa at Chicago Tattoo, while the majority of the rest of his work has been done by New York–based artist Seth Wood, who began with the sleeves. “The right side was [about] going through these bad things, and the left side was coming out stronger,” says Hurley. “And then my back piece was originally inspired by Seven. On my back I was going to do the disgusting things about the human condition, and the front would be the good things, but then it morphed into a Tibetan god of death, a demon mask thing.”
After that, he moved on to his hands, and huge pieces that cover his ribs to his ankles on both sides. “I think I have morphed from seeing tattoos as this thing that tells a story to just being able to appreciate what Seth does. He’s one of my best friends. I love him and respect him as an artist a lot, so I give him a million ideas, and [see] whatever he comes up with.”
A love of tattoos certainly unites The Damned Things, as does their appreciation for classic rock, comics, and a healthy sense of humor. The vibrant side project has also invigorated the band members by giving each of them a breather from their main projects—although they may be returning to their respective groups soon. Anthrax has a new album tentatively scheduled for a fall release (“Plans are known to go awry,” says Ian); Every Time I Die reportedly have a new CD in the works; and Fall Out Boy, contrary to some reports, have not died.
“It’s definitely not broken up,” Hurley divulges. “I know Patrick [Stump] has been saying a lot publicly lately, [but] we never did break up. I think we had just been touring for a long time and had a couple of things percolating on the side. Patrick was writing songs that didn’t fit at all and had wanted to do a solo thing for years, and The Damned Things was around for years as well, so we took a break to clear our heads, do these other things, get them out, and see how we feel. … We’ve been off for two years at this point, and I definitely want to do it—I love that band still.”
For now, though, he and the other members of The Damned Things are just happy to blow off the doors during the INKED Tour. They certainly don’t view this as a simple side project. “This is a band that definitely has a lot to say,” Ian declares. We look forward to seeing you in the pit.